Football: Lionesses Putri and Danelle step out of comfort zone in pursuit of dream

Putri Nur Syaliza Sazali in action against Seychelles on April 4, 2022. ST PHOTO: DESMOND WEE

SINGAPORE - What was supposed to be a dream move to the United States in January last year soon turned into a nightmare for national footballer Putri Nur Syaliza Sazali.

The teenager was in the US after securing a four-year athletic scholarship to Cumberland University but issues with her matriculation meant that she was not able to play for the school.

Despite this setback, she was determined to stay there as she saw this as an important stepping stone towards her goal of turning professional one day.

While she could not play for the team, the midfielder continued training and remained determined to look for opportunities to play in the US, seeking help from her coach at Cumberland in her search for schools to transfer to in the fall.

"I couldn't do anything (about the situation) but at the same time I was frustrated. One thing that kept me going was the desire to play in the States - it was a dream come true so that kept me going," said the 19-year-old, who is in Singapore for the FAS Tri-Nations Series 2022 (Women's), a triangular tournament that is part of the Lionesses' preparations for the May 12-23 SEA Games in Hanoi.

"I didn't really tell my family about this stuff, I was just dealing with it by myself. But when I told my mum about it, she was quite helpful. She kept helping me with the process, she motivated me not to give up. There was the thought of me coming back and staying in Singapore, but I didn't want to do that after going through so many steps and processes."

When the summer break came, Putri continued training on her own, which was challenging as she found it hard to judge where she stood without her teammates.

But she eventually managed to earn herself a two-year scholarship at Eastern Florida State College, where she is completing an associate in arts degree.

She said: "When summer came, I wanted to stay there to train and find schools to transfer in the fall but it was hard because I can't gauge myself. Training with the team you know where you're at at certain levels and you're challenging with your teammates, but I was lost training by myself.

"When fall came, I was really nervous because I didn't know what to expect. I was going to be seeing new people in the team and (I was nervous about whether) I could bond with them."

But Putri's worries about adapting to the new environment quickly dissipated as she settled down well, becoming fast friends with her teammates from Eastern Florida.

The support of her teammates and coaches has made training enjoyable and in November last year, she and her teammates captured the National Junior College Athletic Association Division I championship, a first in the school's history.

Putri believes she has gained more than just silverware in Florida, saying that her time there has also improved her understanding of the game.

She said: "Eastern works more on the way we play, so in terms of movements on the field, I feel like I improved a lot in that part. In terms of technical stuff, I would say it's the same but fitness-wise I've also improved…

"The people there help a lot like friends and the coaches are really nice too. They are helpful and very happy at practice, which plays a big role in helping me to be much more motivated to train."

Also moving abroad by herself to chase her dream of being a professional footballer is fellow Lioness Danelle Tan, who in January, relocated to London where she is studying at Mill Hill School.

Danelle Tan in action against Seychelles on April 4, 2022. ST PHOTO: DESMOND WEE

The 17-year-old chose the school because of its partnership with an English club's academy.

Since moving to London, the teenager's weekly training routine sees her training eight times in total, which includes individual sessions, as well as those with her school and the club.

Danelle, who became Singapore's youngest goal scorer at the age of 14 years and 294 days in 2019, is also the first female to represent Mill Hill's first XI football team.

But training with boys is not something new for Danelle - even in Singapore, she was competing in private football academy JSSL Singapore's competitions for boys.

Despite having been in London for just a few months, the forward, who scored two goals in the Lionesses' 6-2 victory over Seychelles last Monday (April 4), believes her experiences in England have helped her improve.

She said: "Playing and training with the boys constantly helped me in the sense that I'm used to thinking a lot quicker. In the UK when I play with boys, I'm forced to because I can't afford to play at a slower pace. That helped in the game against Seychelles and training with the national team."

The different football standards is not the only thing that Danelle has had to adapt to in England. Moving to London has also forced her to be more independent and there are things like the erratic weather patterns that she has had to get used to.

But Danelle said she has coped better than she had expected.

London is just the latest destination for Danelle, who will be taking her A levels next year, in her pursuit of turning professional. That desire has led her to seek opportunities in places like the US and Europe in recent years, including training stints at clubs like Ajax.

These stints have exposed her to different playing styles, but one thing that has been consistent is the professionalism at some of these clubs, which has only pushed her to work harder.

She said: "Everyone's focused when they get on the field. During water breaks, they down a bit of water and it's straight back to training. You can tell they really want to improve - when everyone in the team is striving to improve, everyone just sets a higher benchmark for themselves."

Now, Danelle is looking forward to playing in the SEA Games against the region's top teams like world No. 43 Thailand, who are in the same group as the Lionesses.

She said: "A good goal for us would be to give a good account of ourselves. A lot of the time, people watching don't just look at the score, they also look at your performance so if we are able to show what we can do, that would be a good goal.

"The SEA Games is a huge thing and it's the first time in 19 years that the women's team will be playing and so it's also to inspire the next generation and show them that it could be you playing on this field in a few years."

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